Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hickey

When you're eleven years old and bored out of your mind, whether due to a lack of creativity or a lack of intelligence, the idea of shooting pecans at each other with a high-power slingshot sounds exciting. My best friend growing up, Bill Cook, had an enormous back yard that was perfect for a game of slingshot tag. The only ingredients needed were a five-gallon bucket of pecans, a slingshot, and a sense of adventure bordering on stupidity. Unfortunately, we had all three. The rules were simple; run around the back yard like an idiot until you either get hit with a pecan or cross into the safe zone: Bill's mom's flower bed. Bill was up first as the "runner." I took my position and loaded my first pecan as Bill prepared to make his run. Due to my inaccuracy with the slingshot and Bill's winding pattern through the back yard, not a single pecan found its target. He bobbed and weaved, dodging each of my shots. Finally, a pecan made contact with his torso, meaning it was my turn to take to the yard.

It turns out that since the slingshot belonged to Bill, he was significantly more accurate with it. Every time I got within twenty feet of him, he'd nail me with a shot to the leg, chest, or back, requiring us to trade places. This went back and forth for some time, and I began to build up quite a collection of bruises. We took a short break to get something cool to drink and get out of the hot sun for a few minutes. Afterwards, I felt renewed and took my place ready to run. I took off like a shot, tracing a serpentine figure around the yard. Even Bill's marksmanship was no match for my clever maneuvering; I faked left, then right, then left again, stopping and starting, jumping and ducking my way around trees and through open areas, getting closer and closer to the safe zone. Bill’s face was red now with frustration, and as I wove an intricate pattern toward the flower bed, I hoped he would begin to fire out of desperation, substituting quantity for quality. Instead, he seemed to be channeling his frustration and converting it into a frightening mix of anger and accuracy. The pecans began to get closer to me, and I could hear and feel the whiz of air as they rocketed past me. He was launching them really hard now, stretching the bands of the slingshot into long, thin strands of rubber. But he hadn't hit me yet, and I was only steps away from the flower bed now. As I made my final dash for the safe zone, I decided to add a little panache and leap across it. And that? Turned out to be a really bad decision.

As I leapt into the air to cross into the safe zone, Bill fired one last pecan, which tore through the air toward me like a little brown missile. I could see it coming straight for me, and there was no way to get out of its path. It connected with the left side of my neck, just above the collar, with a resounding THWACK, knocking me off my flight path and dumping me into the begonias like a sack of dirt. As I lay in the midst of the flowers with a hand over my stinging neck, I heard Bill saying, "Gotcha!" as he laughed hysterically, and I knew he would taunt me mercilessly about it. However, over the weekend the large red welt developed into what appeared to be a massive hickey. Mom tried to help me find a shirt with a collar to cover it, but the middle of May wasn’t really turtleneck weather, so she suggested that I simply make the best of a bad situation by taking preemptive action. Bill was always late for school on Mondays. Always. It was just a fact of life, like leaves changing color in the fall, and I decided to use it to my advantage. I arrived at school a little early on Monday, wearing a collarless shirt. The other members of my fifth-grade class instantly gathered around me to point and stare, their eyes and jaws wide with amazement. The rumors began to spread like a flame consuming a trail of gasoline. By roll call it was common knowledge that I had gotten a hickey from a seventh-grade girl—instantly propelling me to rock-star status—and by the time Bill arrived there was no convincing anyone otherwise. So Bill, if you’re reading this? Gotcha.